18 July 2016

Science by the Pint

Posted by Shane Hanlon


A Science by the Pint event

This is a guest post by graduate student Katie Dagon as part of our ongoing series of posts where we ask students to share their experiences in science communication. 

“Science is best by the pint,” remarked one of the scientists signed up to participate in the upcoming Science by the Pint I was helping to organize. As a graduate student with a love of both science and beer, I couldn’t help but agree.

Science by the Pint is a free science café series put on by Science in the News, a graduate student organization at Harvard University dedicated to science communication and outreach. Each month, Science by the Pint takes place at a local pub not far from Harvard’s campus. Featured scientists (usually 1-3 per event) give a short introduction about their research before fielding questions from the audience. Then the main part of the event begins: scientists and their group members (typically 8-10 people or more) are each seated at tables with a small number of attendees to informally discuss research and scientific interests over beer and snacks.

A couple of weeks ago I helped moderate an event called “Annals of the Anthropocene: The Science and Policy of Earth’s Atmosphere.” The featured scientists covered topics from biofuels for airplanes to solar geoengineering to mitigate climate change. The audience was active and engaged, with many folks lingering longer than the usual two hours of the event. The scientists were equally excited, sticking around to answer questions from a wide array of topics. At one point, while we were rotating the scientists to different tables, an anxious attendee raised his hand and asked, “Excuse me, but when do we get another scientist?” I was able to happily reassure him that their scientist was just at the bar, ordering another beer, and would be joining them soon.

Recently, Science by the Pint has expanded to hold events at a local microbrewery. While the pub has a separate room for the event and a group of regulars who attend every month, the brewery environment is more spontaneous. At a recent event, “Controlling Climate Change and Air Pollution,” it was great to see people who originally came out for a beer with friends end up engaging with science to learn something unexpected and new.

I’ve helped out with two events so far, both relating to my PhD research on climate change, and hope to participate further in the future. It’s rewarding to hear from people how much they enjoyed the event and how much they appreciate the organization. I can definitely agree that science, and science communication, can be at their best when served by the pint.

Want to find or start a similar science café in your area? Check out ScienceCafes.org to learn more.

— Katie Dagon is a PhD Candidate in Earth and Planetary Sciences at Harvard University, using climate models to study the effects of climate change and solar geoengineering on the terrestrial water cycle.